How to Prevent Osteoporosis
For years it has been assumed that osteoporosis and fractures are an inevitable part of aging and that little can be done to prevent them. But advances in research, particularly in diagnostic and management, have revealed that it can someday be prevented if individual risks are identified and treated early. Here we take a look at how to prevent osteoporosis.
Contrary to popular belief, osteoporosis is not only found in women. Both men and women are at risk for developing osteoporosis, but it is more prevalent in women. About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 44 million are at risk for developing osteoporosis due to low bone mass. These numbers represent over 50% of people over the age of 50 in the U.S. It is estimated that the cost of osteoporosis will reach over $95 billion per year by 2040.
The Meaning Behind an Osteoporosis Diagnosis
The literal definition of osteoporosis is “porous bone”. Osteoporosis is a generalized bone disease characterized by low bone mass and skeletal fragility, resulting in an increased risk of fracture. If you are a Caucasian woman diagnosed with osteoporosis, you have a 40% chance for fracturing your hips, spine, or wrists. For men, the risk is only 13% after age 50.
What Is the Cause Behind Osteoporosis?
We could think of osteoporosis as a problem of bone remodeling. Bone mass typically declines with age, but for some people, the rate of bone loss simply outpaces the formation of new bones. After reaching peak bone mass in your early 20s, your bones are continually being repaired and replaced through a process called remodeling, which is necessary to maintain bone strength.
Bone remodeling continues about every 10 years during the adult lifetime. There are two bone cells that play essential roles in bone remodeling: the osteoblasts, which build new bones, and the osteoclasts, which dissolve and remove old bones. You may develop osteoporosis if your old bone is removed more quickly than the new bone is built.
Genetic abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, certain medications and hormonal imbalances can also affect the skeleton, producing weak, thin and brittle bones. Osteoporosis that is caused by modifiable factors is called secondary osteoporosis. On the other hand, a diagnosis of primary osteoporosis means there is no direct or singular cause for the disease.
Are You at Risk?
You may be born with risk factors that cannot be changed. If you have one or more of these risk factors, you have a greater chance for developing osteoporosis. You should focus on managing the risk factors that can be changed.
Risk factors you cannot change:
- Old age
- Family history of fractures or low bone mass
- Having a small, thin body frame
Risk factors you can change:
- Cigarette smoking
- Low estrogen or low testosterone levels
- Excessive intake of alcohol
- Poor eating habits
- Inactive lifestyle
- Eating disorder
- Calcium and vitamin D deficiency
Ways to Prevent Osteoporosis
Preventing the disease is paramount to the ultimate management goals. It has been revealed that low bone mass is a consequence of failing to achieve adequate peak bone mass in children and adolescents during their developmental years. This means preventing osteoporosis should start by promoting optimal bone health in children nine to 12 years old, who are presently building their peak bone mass. Here are some other preventative methods to try.
Eating foods that are rich in essential micronutrients are required for bone health, such as calcium and vitamin D. You may take supplements if you have a digestive problem that prevents you from absorbing nutrients from food. Milk is the principal dietary source of calcium. Leafy vegetables, nuts, tofu, seafood and other fortified food products also contain calcium. Vitamin D is essential in utilizing calcium properly. Your skin can produce its own vitamin D with exposure to sunlight. Sardines, tuna, salmon and cod liver oil also contain vitamin D.
Running, jumping and other weight-bearing exercises may play a role in reaching maximum bone mass. Children who engage in physical activities have better bone mineral density. A goal of 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day is enough to maintain bone health.
Ditch cigarettes and alcohol. Cigarette smoking reduces the blood supply to the bones and other tissues. It also cancels the protective effects of the hormone estrogen. Heavy drinking is equally detrimental. Drinking two to three ounces of alcohol daily puts you at risk of bone loss and fractures.
Certain medications can hasten bone loss. These include proton pump inhibitors, steroids, antiseizure mediations and heparin. If you are at a high risk for developing osteoporosis, ask your doctor for alternative treatment options.
Osteoporosis is a lifelong condition that manifests itself in old age and is often diagnosed only after an osteoporotic fracture occurs. By that time, the disease has been in progress for a while. With the benefit of hindsight, this can be prevented if you know the mechanisms by which bone is degraded. While it may be a frightening diagnosis, it is possible to prevent the debilitating effects of osteoporosis. Building and maintaining strong bones is crucial if you want to spare yourself from the woeful experience of vertebral and hip fractures.
- AJMC (Economic Burden of Osteoporosis)
- NCBI (Osteopenia)
- NCBI (Bone Health and Osteoporosis A Report of the Surgeon General)
- NIH (Osteoporosis Overview)
- Medline Plus (Osteoporosis)
- National Osteoporosis Foundation (What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It?)
- Womenshealth.gov (Osteoporosis)
- NCBI (Clinician’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis)